Roots

“It was here,” Abigail muttered as she paced back and forth over the clearing.

“You should have seen it, Jesse. The branches were so thick that you couldn’t even see the sky when you sat by the trunk.” She paused, wiped away a tear, and looked up at the sky.

“I left a piece of my soul here,” she whsipered, and sat down in the dirt.

I looked down at my watch. Dusk was beginning to fall around us. A lightning bug flashed to my right, and a mosquito bit into my arm.

“We only have a little longer before it’s too dark to see anything, Abby. Maybe we should just head back,” I said.

She didn’t respond at first–just stared at a blade of grass she twirled in her hand. When she began to speak, her voice trembled with sadness.

“This place was so different a decade ago. I used to come out here all the time by myself in the summer. I always preferred to be alone. There is something about the sound of the forest when you are the only human in earshot. When you are still for a while, the animals begin to trust you. They emerge from their hiding places and walk right by you like you aren’t even there.”

“Except the mosquitoes,” I muttered bitterly.

“Yes, except those.”

She sighed and I sat down next to her, surprised to find the ground hard beneath me. Before I could say anything, she continued.

“One morning, in my early twenties, I came out here with a mission. A man who claimed to love me had given me a necklace with my birthstone in it. I remember thinking it odd since he always forgot my birthday. When he left me, I kept it for weeks, hoping he would return. He didn’t, and with each passing day it became heavier around my neck.

I buried it at the base of my favorite tree with a note for the person who found it that said something like, ‘I hope this necklace brings you joy, because it has only brought me sorrow.’

I left, and life began to move so fast that I forgot to visit again until I saw you sitting in the coffee shop last week. I couldn’t take my eyes off your necklace. I knew I’d seen it before, but I had to be sure.”

My hands instinctively went to my throat and touched the small charm. She turned to me, her eyes searching mine for an explanation.

“The tree isn’t here, Jesse. I left the necklace, and every trace of who I was is gone.”

I took her hands in mine, fighting the urge to cry myself. I did not owe her, an almost perfect stranger, any explanation. Yet, we both spoke the language of heartbreak, and letting go was a choice I could not make for her.

“I’ve only had it a few years,” I began. “It was a gift from a hiking buddy of mine. He always wanted me to go on long hikes and camping trips with him. He couldn’t stay in one place. On his last trip, he decided to spend a few weeks on the Applachian Trail. It was right after the first hurricane of the season, and the trails were damaged in several spots. He wasn’t prepared for that and got lost. They found his body a couple of weeks after he was supposed to check in around Bristol. This is the last thing he gave me.”

I lifted my hands to unclasp the necklace, and passed it to Abigail.

“And as for your tree,” I added, patting the ground, “It may be gone, but the roots are still buried beneath us.”

Abigail’s eyes widened and she placed one hand on the soil next to her, frantically feeling the remaining roots of the missing tree. Then, she threw her arms around me and pressed her face into my shoulder. When she pulled away, the necklace was around my neck once more.

“I’m so glad,” she whispered, “that everything with a past has the opportunity to start again. How blessed are we, Jesse, to witness that?”

We left, hand-in-hand, both stunned to silence. The stars balanced on branches in the night sky as we made our way back to our cars. Crickets sang, fireflies danced, and the heart of the forest continued to beat.

 

(Writing prompt from http://www.thinkwritten.com: Pick a few words from the start of an article in a magazine and write a story or poem about it. This story was written in response to an article in the October 2018 issue of National Geographic (page 26) that began, “A fallen tree in a forest may seem unremarkable…”.)

Advertisements

Fireworks Season

Written for April Words3, theme: Wanderlust.

“In the neon light from his dashboard, his chiseled facial features looked ethereal. It was hard to imagine that he could be manipulative or dangerous. My eyes travelled to his hands as they fidgeted on the steering wheel, and the illusion disappeared. Blood and dirt were caked beneath his short fingernails. I wondered how long it had been there, and turned away quickly as it dawned on me that the blood may not have been his own.

‘Where are we going?’ I asked, a slight tremble in my voice.

‘Why?’ he replied, flashing a smile as his blue eyes turned to meet mine. ‘You got some place else to be?’
Anywhere, I think, but I knew better than to say it out loud.

‘Of course not, Glen,’ I whispered, sliding my hand up his arm. 

‘Good,’ he said, and winked at me. ‘I’ve got a surprise for you. I know Christmas wasn’t the best this year.’

His voice trailed off, and my mind slipped back to our empty duplex, sparsely decorated for the holiday we would not spend together. On Christmas Eve, he left to buy a few final gifts with money he’d somehow acquired despite losing his job a month prior. He kissed me, and left before I could argue. 

He didn’t turn up again until early January. By then, his bags were packed and the locks were changed on the front door. We barely spoke when I let him in to claim them, and he sauntered out like I was just another piece of furniture he’d cast off in an eviction. No explanations, no begging for forgiveness. Just a light switched off.

That was, of course, until that night in June.

I suppose summertime does that to a person. It makes us hit the road looking for fireworks in nostalgic places. Sometimes, when we can’t find them, we have to make our own.

So he showed up around midnight, making all kinds of promises and apologizing for things that I am, to this day, sure were meant for someone other than me. I stood on the porch of our duplex, arms crossed, and unrelenting. 

Finally, he pulled his button up shirt back to reveal a pistol tucked into his jeans and said, ‘Just get in the car.’

And, not knowing what else to do, I did. It was fireworks season, after all.

Thirty minutes in to our rendezvous, his eyes strained as he looked out of the windshield onto the side of the highway. 

‘Pay attention, Char. Look at the trees.’

I followed his gaze to the evergreens that ran along I45. 

‘There!’ he exclaimed and jerked us over to the side of the road. He’d barely stopped the car when he threw open his door and shouted, ‘Come on!’

‘Glen,’ I began, ‘you don’t have to do this.’

He slammed his door and slid over the hood. Then he opened my door and held out his hand. Suddenly, I wasn’t afraid anymore.

‘It isn’t far,’ he said, ‘I promise. You can see it from the road in the daylight.’

We walked in silence for a few minutes, my hand still locked in his, and then he stopped.

‘Can you see it?’ he asked, pointing to a tree a few yards from the road.

I nodded. It was beautiful. Right there on I45, in the middle of June, an evergreen stood out from the rest. It was covered in silver tinsel and dozens of bulbs of all sizes and colors. 

‘That, my queen, is for you. Merry Christmas.’

I don’t remember how long we stood there, my hand in his, as cars raced by behind us. But he took me home in the early hours of morning, kissed my hand on what had been our doorstep, and vanished back into a world where promises are made to be broken and Christmas comes in June.

So you see, Officer, I am afraid I didn’t realize I was trespassing today. These bones are getting old, and I don’t move as fast as I did back then. It’s getting harder to drive on the highway so late at night. But summer is here, and my ghosts are coming out to play in the heat. I’m feeling a little nostalgic. Won’t you give me back my decorations and let a little old lady have one last Christmas in June?”

“The Huntsman” Discussion Questions

The Huntsman is a modern retelling of Red Riding Hood. Fairy tale retellings are very popular right now, casting original characters in modern roles that only slightly reflect their previous adaptations. Do you think the new versions of the old stories will play an important role in literary history some day? How do the changes show how we have evolved as a society over time?

As representations of good and evil, do you feel like Jasper and Silver are flawed? If so, how?

How does loneliness affect each character differently?

How do the tragedies in their lives force characters to make decisions that will either lead to their salvation or their demise?

The toy elephant is a very tangible object in this book. What else could it represent in a larger context, by traveling from the huntsman’s mother all the way to the huntress?

By the end of the book, do you feel that the wolf’s power diminishes? Or has it simply changed?

How do you feel about the end of the book? Did you know who Anna was by then, and when did you know? What do you think will happen in the sequel?

What is your favorite quote from the book? How did this relate to your life?

If you could hear this story from another character’s perspective, who would you choose, and why?

How do you feel about where the story ends for the huntsman’s character in this book? Did he deserve better?

 

Find The Huntsman: A modern retelling of Red Riding Hood and other works by Hayleigh Worgan at www.hayleighworgan.com.

City Girls

Written for February Words3
Theme: “Love”

(Author’s Note: This piece began in response to a writing prompt at a conference I attended in January. The goal was to focus on a souvenir and form the story around it. I used an actual souvenir from a trip I took years ago and wove a short fictional story that may become a memory for a character in a sequel to The Huntsman. I’ve changed the title since I first read it in February.)

We were a little tipsy by the time we saw the sign for the record store. I can still remember your hand on my arm, guiding me to it through the crowded sidewalks. It was snowing that night in Boston, and we were a few blocks from our hotel.

Between the buzz of my anxiety just beneath the alcohol and the hum of the city around us, I could barely hear your insistence that this place looked like a sanctuary for punk rockers and anarchists. You, who wanted to buy your way into both worlds with your parents’ money. And me, who really just tagged along for free plane tickets and hotel rooms.

The cold pushed us down a stairwell and through the glass door to a bright, open room with white walls. The cashier barely glanced up at us over his rimmed glasses, and I marveled at the thought of him pushing his tiny frame against the wind to wherever he called home once his shift was over. He wore a blue plaid shirt and jeans, but I know you don’t remember. Irony was always lost on you unless it helped you in an argument.

My hands were shaking, but it wasn’t from the lingering cold in my bones. I could feel my stomach clenching in the new silence of the store. I felt around in my pocket for the little pink pill my doctor told me to take for my panic attacks, and when my fingers found it I remembered what the bottle said about mixing it with alcohol.

I weighed my options as you sifted through Iggy Pop and Gogol Bordello albums for the little piece of treasure you believed, with all your heart, had to exist beneath the city streets. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a table filled with books. For the first time on our week-long journey, I found something to distract me from making sure your needs were met. The pill fell back into my coat pocket.

I crossed the room, past photos of Prince and Johnny Cash that stared back at me with what could have been indignation. The table was small—no bigger than the nightstand in our hotel room. A giant book featuring a cover with a tattooed Marilyn Monroe was propped up on top. Various other titles were stacked together next to it. On the shelf beneath that one, local publications were strewn carelessly, almost covering a stack of tiny bright green pocket-sized books covered with illustrations of protestors.

I picked one up, and flipped through the pages enough to realize that it was not exactly a book, but a planner filled with quotes from people who had protested different forms of injustice throughout history. I was fascinated, and I felt a smile cover my face as I read through them. It was at this point that you realized I was not right behind you waiting to be lectured on the imposters of punk rock and the artists that mattered to the genre.

“Are you ready to go?” I heard you ask from over my shoulder. I turned sharply, book in hand, and saw that yours were empty.

“This place doesn’t have anything good,” you added, loud enough for the guy behind the counter to raise an eyebrow as he thumbed through a magazine. “Let’s go grab another beer.”

I looked at you then, sickly pale in the fluorescent light. Your blonde hair was sticking to the sides of your face. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw you completely sober.

“I’m just going to get this,” I said softly.

You took it from my hand and flipped through it before laughing and spitting out, “A planner? Really?”

I felt heat flood my face, and my stomach turned once more. I thought I was going to be sick. Closing my eyes, I inhaled deeply and took it back from you.

“I’ll be outside,” you said, pulling out your phone as you left to text someone more vibrant than me. Someone who needed less so they could be more for you. Someone who didn’t need some silly green planner to feel better about their free ticket to Boston.

Except it wasn’t actually free, was it?

After almost two years of watching you drown yourself in alcohol and self-medicating to the point of disaster, that trip to Boston was when we both realized that I was not capable of truly loving you, because you made me hate myself every time I tried.

I barely looked at the cashier when I bought that planner—just like you barely looked at me when I joined you on the sidewalk. We drank that night, and the next. On our last evening there, you roamed the city alone while I packed for the trip home. Somewhere between you falling off your barstool and stumbling to a taxi, I was making a list of all the things I needed to do to move out of our apartment when we got back.

I can’t remember much about Boston—all the streets rich with history, the tiny shops, or the people who lived there. What I remember instead is the chipped nail polish on your fingernails, and the way you painted on your face like a mask every time we left the hotel. I think of you only when I see lipstick stains on cigarette butts. In those moments, I realize you are still out there somewhere in search of the perfect record, the perfect girl, and the perfect distraction. Our ghosts, on the other hand, haunt those cobblestones with all the other memories of love and war.

Poetry: Sweet Sixteen

On moonlit back roads
a cigarette dances
between nervous lips;
the devil, she’s sure
wears a crooked smile.

She is nothing short of captivated
far too young to be out so late;
her fingerprints on a bag of shrooms,
time accelerates ninety miles an hour
to escape headlights she cannot see.
But blue eyes promise
they will not be caught,
two lanes turn to one, lines blur
the adrenaline is what keeps them high
the Main Street stoplight
flashes ahead
the smell of brake fluid
draws him back to her.

Just moments later
they pass a cop car
the speedometer
tells them they’re safe.
Back in town he swears
he will protect her
never let her go;
a few months later
blue eyes will vanish
leaving memories
tattoo souvenirs
a taste for vodka
and a broken heart
sixteen and too young
for all of these things
a cigarette between nervous lips
burning memories
and the smoke forgives
what she can’t forget.

 

Published in the Winter 2017 edition of Falling Star Magazine.